Brian Hall at the Baines Park on Anzac Day.
Brian Hall at the Baines Park on Anzac Day.

The real story behind Anzac Day dawn services

AS DAWN broke this morning across the country hundreds of thousands gathered around cenotaphs and war memorials to pay their respects to fallen soldiers.

But many would be unaware of the lesser known story behind the dawn service tradition's humble beginnings.

It's a widely held belief the dawn service is associated with the dawn landings at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, however there is another story; told by Bundamba MP Jo-Ann Miller today at a mid-morning service in Ipswich today.

Ms Miller told a 300-strong crowd, largely made up of families that, while a dawn mass was held as early as 1918, it wasn't until the late 1920s the practice became tradition.

She told the tale of a small group of returned soldiers, who were making their way home after a night out at a formal function the night before Anzac Day.

Along the way they stumbled upon an old woman laying flowers at an unfinished Sydney cenotaph, in the moments before dawn broke on April 25, 1927.

"They joined her in this private remembrance and the men later resolved to hold a dawn service the following year," Mr Miller told the crowd.

That story is repeated in the official histories listed on The Australian War Memorial which also states a dawn service at the same cenotaph the following year attracted 150 people who stood silent for two minutes.

It is that moment which is generally regarded among historians as the beginning of organised dawn services, although such services were held in Toowoomba as early as 1919.

According to the Australian War Memorial, it is often suggested the dawn service has military origins, given the half-light of dawn was favoured for launching as attack.

"Soldiers in defensive positions were woken in the dark before dawn, so by the time first light crept across the battlefield they were awake, alert, and manning their weapons; this is still known as the 'stand-to'," the Australian War Memorial states.

"As dusk is equally favourable for battle, the stand-to was repeated at sunset.

"After the First World War, returned soldiers sought the comradeship they had felt in those quiet, peaceful moments before dawn.

"A dawn vigil became the basis for commemoration in several places after the war.

"It is difficult to say when the first dawn services were held, as many were instigated by veterans, clergymen, and civilians from all over the country.

"A dawn requiem mass was held at Albany as early as 1918, and a wreath laying and commemoration took place at dawn in Toowoomba the following year. In 1927 a group of returned men returning at dawn from an Anzac Day function held the night before came upon an elderly woman laying flowers at the as yet unfinished Sydney Cenotaph.

"Joining her in this private remembrance, the men later resolved to institute a dawn service the following year. Some 150 people gathered at the Cenotaph in 1928 for a wreath laying and two minutes' silence.

"Over the years the ceremonies have developed into their modern forms and have seen an increased association with the dawn landings of 25 April 1915."

Source: Australian War Memorial